Posts Tagged ‘Abi Morgan’

I’m glad I’m not an actor with a part in this Abi Morgan play. I wouldn’t get through a single performance without losing my way, let alone a whole run. It’s structure is clever but must be a nightmare for Sinead Cusack, Genevieve O’Reilly, Michelle Fairley, and Zawe Ashton, so lets start with gold stars for the actors.

We’re in some sort of European dictatorship which is about to be overthrown by the people. In a large, fancy but tasteless room the president’s wife Micheleine is meeting western photojournalist Kathryn, who has come to photograph her husband. She has an interpreter of dubious competence and motivation, Gilma (who’s also a kleptomaniac!). Her oldest friend Genevieve arrives, summoned by Micheleine.

The same scene is played out multiple times, but each one is different in some respect, more differences as we progress through the 95 minutes of the play. We learn more about the true nature of the relationship between Micheleine and Genevieve, where Gilma stands on the conflict and something, but not a lot, about Kathryn. They break the fourth wall frequently and Kathryn doesn’t always understand what the others are saying, or vice versa.

It’s all very clever, but I felt the focus on structure, though not impacting the characterisations, does rob the play of story; there just isn’t enough of it. In addition to faultless acting, particularly impressive from Sinead Cusack as Micheleine and Zawe Ashton as Gilma, there’s a fine set by Peter McKintosh and impeccable direction by Robert Hastie.

I admired it and it impressed me, but the play left me wanting more.

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Abi Morgan is an accomplished writer across theatre, film & TV and I’ve always enjoyed her work. Though I’d never heard about the real life She and He and their relationship based on the agreement to which the title refers, I can imagine why she would want to dramatise it. Sadly, it comes out as an inert and somewhat dull play.

In five scenes, we follow the relationship over 30 years, from the day they sign the agreement. It all takes place in She’s West US home, which is part of the agreement, an extraordinary tall structure with desert backdrop and giant cacti designed by Merle Hensel. He arrives and they go about their sparring, talking dirty. They have a lot of sex, offstage. They both have ex’s and children; He may also have a current wife. She’s a feminist and he’s certainly not. They record their encounters. They have entered into an unusual arrangement, instigated by Her, that is clearly mutually acceptable and it lasts. In the latter years they are together for half the year. After thirty years they make it public in their memoirs. That’s about it, really.

Despite good performances from Danny Webb & Saskia Reeves, it wasn’t long before I was slipping into a disengaged state of ‘so what?’ I’m afraid I didn’t like and wasn’t interested in either character. The feminist debate was nowhere near as interesting as that in other current plays Blurred Lines or Rapture Blister Burn. When you can’t get into something, ninety minutes can be a very long time and to be honest I just wanted it to end from about half-way through. Another occasion where no interval was wise indeed (well, for the theatre anyway).

I think director Vicky Featherstone could have given it more pace and energy, but I think the core issue is that the story just doesn’t lend itself to dramatisation and should stay on the page.

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You know you’re at a Frantic Assembly show soon after the curtain goes up. They have a unique style which blends narrative, movement and visual beauty with an atmospheric sound scape. I must have seen more than 10 of their shows over the last 15 years or so and though they have evolved from edgy and visceral to poignant and thoughtful they are still distinctive.

This play tells the story of a couple at both the beginning and end of their relationship. The stories weave together and overlap and you learn a remarkable amount from the minimum of dialogue. From the beginnings of their relationships we see them establish themselves, buying their home and business premises, and surviving the wife’s unfaithfulness to grow old together. With their older selves, we live through life’s endgame and in particular Maggie’s terminal illness and death. This all sounds very depressing but, though it is occasionally sad, it didn’t feel like that because it’s actually very beautiful.

The stage is covered in leaves with a backdrop of tall screens set at angles to one another, onto which moving images are projected. The bedroom is to the right – just a wardrobe and bed – and the kitchen to the left – just a fridge and table & chairs. Simple but rather lovely. The actors often glide silently past one another, sometimes the old or young couple, but sometimes one of each or all four. The wardrobe and bed entrances are simply extraordinary and there’s a scene towards the end when all four are on the bed that takes your breath away.

There is an ambient music sound scape for almost the entire 90 minutes (a little too much in my view) which added to the movement and visual style creates the feeling of flowing through these people’s lives. It was a little slow in parts, but the overall impression is of watching entire lives unfold before you. At then end, the only word that would capture what I’d experienced was ‘beautiful’.

All four performers are excellent, but it’s a particular treat to see Sian Phillips in such an innovative and challenging piece at this point in her career. Film and TV writer-of-the-moment (Iron Lady and The Hour), Abi Morgan, provides a minimalist narrative which allows the other components to make equal contributions. The design of Merle Hensel (with Andy Purves’ lighting, Carolyn Downing’s sound and Ian William Galloway’s video projections) is perfect. Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett’s direction and choreography is, as always, thrilling.

Not everyone will like this unconventional and inventive show, but I did – very much.

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